In the Bleak Midwinter
Content Warning: Mental Health topics
Today's post begins with a sobering image
The reason why this seemingly inoffensive screenshot is sobering, requires some context to tease out. First those who are hyper-observant may have noticed I'm running an EOL version of Fedora. Which is not something I would normally allow. And second you may have noticed if you both read and understood the left window, that I haven't touched a project of mine called MasterText in over a year. And a careful scan of all my public activity logs would reveal that I did almost nothing from August until Three weeks ago.
You may think that a hyperbolic statement. I did manage to get an administrative withdrawal from Graduate School after all. And I haven't starved. And I have dragged myself to church a few times here and there So in one sense you'd be almost right. But the near halting of all my online life, not going to church. letting maintenance tasks slip. All for a period of three to five months. These my friends are what we call warning signs. You may ask warning signs of what, exactly?
Depression that's what
I don't know if I've said this in a publicly visible space yet, but around 18 months ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder. Now I know very little of the public perception of the illness. But here's what I can tell you from my limited experience so far. And beware for I am tired of linear writing
Christina Rossetti's most famous poem In the Bleak Midwinter begins thusly
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
This is an ultimately joyful poem about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Indeed the starkness of the scene starts taking it's climb upward in the very next verse. But in Bipolar's Depression phase you never get the lift your mind is just sort of stuck, in the bleak midwinter. You are alone with the frosty wind.
Sometimes the wind is so bitter and cruel that you feel it almost immediately. And it sends you scurrying to the safety of your support system, almost immedatly.. Those are the good ones paradoxical as it may seem. What I live in fear of are those times when the mental winter is just below freezing.
In those days one may not appreciate the danger until it is too late. For although the wind starts as a gentle breeze, over time it can seep into every exposed crack in your mental armor, stealing your breath, chilling your mind. Even causing bone deep physical pain. Until it becomes a struggle just to survive. And all you can think about is when the next McDonalds run is going to happen. All the while your relationships crumble, your opportunities wither. And the guilt of things undone, becomes it's own howl in the wind. Finally your in so **much** gods be damned pain that you either reach out or go into mania which is it's own special hell, or else destroy yourself.
Such is life
I don't know who I am anymore
Not once in life have I been real
But I never felt this close before
I've been looking in your window
I've been dressing in your clothes
I've been walking dead, watching you
Long enough to know I can't go on
Flyleaf This Close
Always Winter and Never Christmas. This is my experience of depression. Or as close as I can realistically come in 300 or so words. The twist with bipolar is that the very medications that can save you from this hell, are capable of rocketing you into a manic psychosis. And at least in my case depression can strike at any time. For any reason or no reason at all. Therapy has helped somewhat. As has getting the right mix of meds, but that took nearly a year of trial and error.
But the absolute worst thing about bipolar is that when the springtime of the mind does finally happen. You can't trust it because you always have to be on guard against that rocket into mania.
So how does one deal with this seemingly endless cycle of depression. How does one even begin to recover and build a meaningful Well again I can only speak for myself. And the advice I have isn't easy in fact this is the hardest thing I've ever done. Hell even writing about it has preoccupied me for most of two days.
There's a song that's inside my soul
It's the one that I've tried to write over and over again
I'm awake in the infinite cold
But you sing to me over and over again
Switchfoot/Mandy Moore Only Hope
This may seem a simple or even childish answer to a soul crushing phenomenon of depression, but i assure you hope in the face of the winter of the mind and heart is anything but simple. Our society says that hope is some sort of emotion, like happiness. Something you're only supposed to feel when there is a rational basis to believe things will get better. This is not the hope I'm talking about such hope is a cheap and somewhat frivolous thing. And when you're in the midst of depression there is little if any of that sort of thing around.
What I'm trying to get at here is the sort of
hope that is a positive act of the will. Hope is something you do, not something you feel. Am I saying you can beat back mental illness on willpower. Hell No I myself need a custom four drug cocktail, and an hour of talk therapy every week to keep my head above water.
What I am saying is that in order for treatment to work, and recovery to happen. You have to want it, and invest in it. You have to have a reason to persist. Through the roiling stomachs, the revolving door of therapists, the medications and combinations that backfire. It sucks, so you've got to have a reason to do it.
Even more important than the hope that guides you through the winter. Is what gets you back on the horse, and replanting your garden when winter finally ends.
I'm not saying lie to yourself about your situation either. I am saying find a reason to live. Even if that reason is just the next McDonald's run, you can find a better reason when your McChickens' are consumed.
You may now be asking what my hope is centered in. Well the first part of that is easy. My religion gives me hope. I'm Roman Catholic of the Latin Rite. My religion tells me that each and every human being is made in the image, and likeness of God. And thus we are all of infinite worth and value just for existing. No if's, and's or special exemptions for queer people about it. Religion is not everyone's cup of tea so that's all I'll say on that for now.
The second part is harder to explain but is also values based. You see I am an unabashed techno-optimist, at times bordering on a techno-utopian. Which means that I believe that Science and Technology, when guided by a proper concern for Justice, can and will lead to a brighter future for everyone.
Knowing that there are Communities of like-minded people doing their best to make the world better despite capitalist opposition . And having played a bit part in some of it. Really gives me hope I wouldn't otherwise have.
One has to be careful about this framing though. For it can easily lead to guilt when in winter. It can easily become "I'm so pathetic and weak I'm letting down God and my people." This is where that Therapy comes in handy
So What does Recovery Look Like
Well if we take the image i posted at the beginning, and reframe our thinking about it slightly. A couple of new facts emerge.
- That git repository originates from sr.ht and not github. I've been meaning to move for over a year now and finally did it.
- The EOL Fedora thing is because I tried it on another computer and it didn't work. See this sites post of the 17th
- A careful reading of my public logs for the past three weeks will reveal I've done all sorts of things.
- Private logs look even better
- I'm enjoying music again
- I can watch Anime again
- I can enter a church without feeling overwhelmed by guilt
This is what recovery looks for me at least. That is to say my executive functioning and creative drive return. As well as my enjoyment of things that bring me joy. It'll be different for everyone. And I would caution you dear reader not to measure your own recovery by how much you are able to be productive. That road leads straight back to depression and winter. For me at least winter has ended time to replant.
Be kind to yourself
Thanks To Joe, bx, vantablack, Anton, fsan, and anyone i forgot to mention for help and encouragement with this one.
Copyright © 2023 Matt Arnold CC-NC-BY-SA 4.0